Jan 20, 2011
In a few days, I'll be off to Thailand.
Five years ago, Thailand was the stepping stone into the life I live now. It was my first trip to Asia, the first foray into teaching ESL, the first taste of expat life. Going back will surely be a big nostalgic saunter.
The more time passes and the further I get from that experience, the rosier it is in my memory. Now, when people ask me about my time in Thailand, I get all moony. I saw beautiful places and people. I made some wonderful friendships there. I taught students who inspired me, whose progress made me beam. So many things I took to be the norm, I saw turned on their western heads.
I rode easily on motorbikes, a side-saddled passenger.
I ate bugs, pan fried with lemongrass.
I sat on a battered computer chair, playing with someone's pet tiger cub.
I saw so many kinds of unhappiness, far from the normal scope of my comfortable young life.
I saw so many kinds of happiness, the kind I couldn't quite fathom, which grows out of having little, having loss, smiling anyway.
...see? There goes that rosy nostalgic walk. Easy to get carried away, there.
As the trip gets closer, though, I've been remembering more of the uncomfortable stuff.
The self-consciousness of being so foreign, so scrutinized.
The ebbing system of logic where truth and deceit are malleable.
The prick of discomfort when a friend, in a whirl of thin stories, asks you for money. Again.
The nebulous relationship between western men and Thai women. The economics, the gender politics, that oft-repeated question of "who's exploiting who?" still never sitting right with me.
When I talk to friends about the trip, I wonder aloud how the place has changed in five years. The truth is, I'm sure I know how it's changed. The country and my old town are a little more wifi'd, a little more built up; the tourist bubble has expanded a little wider.
The question that gets louder as the trip gets closer is this:
In five years, how have I changed?
It sounds flaky, I know. The kind of flaky undergradspeak that I would have scribbled in my travel journal when I was first in Thailand. But I'm so curious of how it will be, seeing the place again through the eyes of a woman five years older, five years more immersed into travel and teaching and living abroad with curiosity and sanity.
Will it be greyer compared to all my technicolour memories? Will it be noisy and buggy and wild, like any other tropical urban sprawl? Will I beam around, silently thanking every familiar sound and smell for pointing me eventually to the path I'm on?
Let's find out, shall we?